Newly Released FISC Opinion Reveals FBI Misused FISA Section 702 to Search for Racial Justice Protestors, Activist Groups, and Political Campaign Donors

May 19, 2023

A newly released Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) opinion from April 2022 revealed that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has continued to abuse its access to information collected under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), including by searching for racial justice protestors, activist groups, and political campaign donors. The FISC detailed the FBI’s “pattern of conducting broad, suspicionless queries” of information collected under Section 702, a sweeping warrantless foreign intelligence surveillance authority. Although the FISC ultimately approved the FBI’s revised querying guidelines, it emphasized that the FBI’s compliance issues “have proven to be persistent and widespread” and warned that further noncompliance may require other, stronger responses from the FISC.

EPIC recently published several posts—including one on backdoor searches—as part of a new blog series focused on explaining Section 702 and the need to reform it. EPIC has also urged the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to recommend prohibiting warrantless backdoor searches and has joined a coalition of civil liberties groups proposing broad reform to Section 702 and related surveillance authorities.

Jeramie Scott, EPIC Senior Counsel & Director of the Project on Surveillance Oversight, released the following statement regarding the most recent FISC opinion:

“The FISC’s April 2022 opinion is an indictment of the FBI’s abuse of Section 702, and a clear indication that—despite its repeated promises to reform itself—the Bureau continues to use sweeping foreign surveillance authorities to conduct warrantless searches of innocent Americans. The FBI’s actions over the years are why surveillance authorities must come with meaningful transparency, oversight, and accountability measures as well as limitations that actually protect our privacy. It’s time for Congress to step in and put an end to the government’s warrantless surveillance of Americans.”

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